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Carbon Monomers and Polymers

Some small carbon compounds can join repeatedly to form massive molecules.

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The Incredible Shrinking Polymer

The Incredible Shrinking Polymer

Credit: Jan Homann
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Styropor_in_Mikroskop_mit_Polfilter.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

You probably don’t recognize the white material in the photo above because it’s been magnified with a microscope. Can you guess what it is?

News You Can Use

  • It’s a plastic named polystyrene. Like other plastics, polystyrene is a hydrocarbon made from petroleum.
  • You may know polystyrene as “number 6 plastic” (for the number 6 inside its recycling symbol). It’s used to make containers, like these:
  • License: CC BY-NC 3.0



  • Polystyrene is an extremely useful material, but not just for containers. Polystyrene has an interesting property that makes it a fun craft material. It’s the basis of popular craft kits, such as Shrinky Dinks®.
  • You can use a Shrinky Dink kit to make small plastic creations from thin sheets of polystyrene.
  • You can craft your own homemade Shrinky Dinks® by recycling number 6 plastic containers. To see how, watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_BC94oBeWQ

Can You Apply It?

Learn more about polystyrene and Shrinky Dinks® at the links below. Then answer the following questions.

  1. What are polymers?
  2. Describe the polymer polystyrene.
  3. Shrinky Dink® creations start out as a thin sheet of polystyrene. Describe the arrangement of polymer molecules in a sheet of polystyrene. Why are the molecules arranged this way?
  4. Explain what happens to polystyrene molecules when a sheet of polystyrene is heated. How does this affect the polystyrene sheet?
  5. How have scientists used the shrinking property of polystyrene sheets in nanotechnology?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Jan Homann; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Styropor_in_Mikroskop_mit_Polfilter.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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